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A Homemade Family Christmas

Photo Credit: ktylerconk

Post by Contributing Writer, Michele of Frugal Granola

Part of the fun of Christmas preparations in our family is involving the little ones in making homemade gifts. Depending on their ages/abilities, the level of their contributions may vary, but they love the feeling of “being in on the surprise.”

It is so sweet to see a child’s joy of giving on Christmas morning, when they say “I made it just for you!” (On the occasion when they admit, “Mama/Daddy helped,” I just respond, “That’s what mommies/daddies are for! You did a wonderful job.” And they smile.)

Some children creatively think of gifts to make for members of the family on their own, while others may prefer an “assigned” project that you work on together. Here are some ideas that allow for little hands, to get you started.

The majority of these projects are intended to be done as a family/with a parent; savor the joy of Christmas together! Many of these gifts are also suitable for friends/neighbors or extended family; tailor it to your family’s gift-giving traditions.

Photo Credit: katerha

For Mama

Photo Credit: James Bowe

For Daddy

Photo Credit: Nico Paix

For Siblings

Gift-making can be a wonderful time of intentionally carving out some quality family time together, as well as practicing generosity for others. You’ll be establishing cherished traditions, valued character traits, and life-long memories!

Comments { 12 }

Treasured Christmas Books to Read with Little Ones

A special way we enjoy keeping our focus on the true meaning of Christmas is to stock up on a collection of fun meaningful Christmas storybooks. Each day we love to snuggle up with a book or two and focus our hearts again on the richness and joy of the season. As we continue to read and share with our children, the more they grow to understand the beauty of Christ’s birth. Each year we like to purchase a book or two to add to our Christmas storybook collection that we can draw out each year. This year we wrapped them up and including this special unveiling among our advent calendar activities.

Here are some of our favorite Christmas reads for the season:

The Legend of the Christmas Tree by Rick Osborne

The Legend of the Candy Cane by Lori Walburg

The Legend of the Christmas Stocking by Rick Osborne

The Story of St. Nicholas: More than Reindeer and A Red Suit by Voice of the Martyrs

The Three Gifts of Christmas by Jennie Bishop

The Tale of Three Trees by Angela Hunt

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski

The Pine Tree Parable by Liz Curtis Higgs

The Gift of the Magi by O Henry

The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (adapted picture book version)

The Candle In the Window by Grace Johnson

Jacob’s Gift by Max Lucado

One Wintry Night by Ruth Graham Belle

Christmas Carols for Kids Hearts by Sergio Martinez

Josie’s Gift by Kathleen Bostrom

We Believe in Christmas by Karen Kingsbury

The Indescribable Gift by Richard Exathlete

Song of the Stars by Sally Lloyd Jones (author of our favorite Jesus Storybook bible has created a fabulous story of the birth of Jesus)

The Town that Forgot about Christmas by Susan K. Leigh

What Star is This? By Joseph Slate

Want to add your favorites to the list?

Why not stop with me, pick up a book and read to your little ones today. It’s the best foundation for their education.

Comments { 29 }

Making a Creative Art Space

I’ve always been one that hates a mess of art supplies, so I have kept them tucked away high out of reach to prevent any disasters. I’m just not a crafty mommy…it is a stretch. What resulted was very infrequent art projects because of my own shortsightedness. I’ve learned that when things are not accessible or clearly visible for littles ones, they are rarely played with. Low and behold, I have a 4 year old daughter that loves crafty art projects!

Recently, I was inspired (thanks to Playful Learning & Not Just Cute) to arrange a little art center in an organized fashion that could be easily accessible for the kids to explore and inspire creativity to their hearts content. I have been so thrilled with the results! We arranged our new set up on a little kids’ table and stocked it with the following supplies:

Storage rack ($4.99 from IKEA) – storing construction paper, doodle books, watercolors, child scissors, glue, stickers
Metal plant pots (.79 each from IKEA) – markers, crayons, and colored pencils
Art smock (full body bib from IKEA) - hanging from nail on wall
Art boxes (basic pencil boxes) – one box is holding paints, another is storing an assortment of fun texture items (fabric scraps, felt, popcorn, beans, beads, and buttons)

I am planning to add this stamp set in their Christmas stockings! It is a simple enough arrangement that the kids can easily clean up after themselves and can engage with the supplies freely.

My four year old had made a collection of a dozen different works of art within an hour and keeps going back for more!

Comments { 33 }

Simple Seasonal Family Traditions

Post by Contributing Writer, Michele Augur of Frugal Granola

As a family, we cherish each new season. Our children love the familiar rhythm of knowing what to expect and savoring the many delights of each season.

We like to keep a handful of seasonal traditions that are easy to schedule into our busy lives, as well as easy on the budget. (There are also a few “special extras” when possible.) Now that our oldest child is almost five, she has quite a memory bank of these traditions, and doesn’t let us forget!

Also, whenever we’re expecting a new baby, we let our children know in “seasonal terms” when they can expect the newest arrival. (Our summer baby came “when it was hot and sunny, after the blueberries, with the zucchini and tomatoes, and before the corn.” Our spring baby is expected “near the end of the snow, when the spring rains come, the crocuses bloom, and the green buds appear.”)

Here are some of our family’s favorites:

Photo Credit: ollesvensson

Autumn

Right now, we are entering into the autumn season of fall leaves, garden harvests, and cooler nights (probably our favorite time of year; at least for my husband & I).

  • Wild Blackberry and/or Huckleberry-Picking
  • Hiking in the Woods (It’s nice to get out in the clear fresh air, even if it’s a bit rainy!)
  • Baked Apple and/or Popcorn Nights
  • Gathered Leaf Crafts (such as leaf rubbings, garlands, “bouquets” on the table, etc.) We just completed a fun Leaf Pounding project (printing onto muslin fabric on top of a board- instead of cardboard); even our 2-year-old got in on the hammering!
  • A Fall Camping Trip (usually at the beach)- Campsites are usually less crowded in the fall, you can see the stars in the darker evenings, and it’s cozy by the campfire! (We’ve also gotten together with other family members and rented an affordable beach house together, since it’s the “off” season.)
  • Attending an Apple & Pear Harvest Festival/Farmer’s Market and/or U-Pick Farms
  • Treats of Hot Spiced Cider, Applesauce, or Creamy Pear Pie (a “mandatory” dish at our big family Thanksgiving dinner gatherings!)
  • Cream Cheese Pumpkin Muffins on Thanksgiving morning
  • Pumpkin Waffles for breakfasts (can also use some cooked squash)

Photo Credit: hello-julie

Winter

We have a few winter birthdays in our family, plus our wedding anniversary, in addition to the other holidays, so this season is very celebratory for us!

  • Advent and the Twelve Days of Christmas activities
  • St. Nicholas Day
  • Snow Angels and Snowmen
  • Occasionally, attending a performance of The Nutcracker (a children’s theater or a matinee is often more affordable, and a more manageable showing time for little ones)
  • Homemade Gingerbread Cake or Molasses Cookies
  • Mint Hot Chocolate
  • Listening to a Handel’s “Messiah” CD or DVD
  • Participating in our church’s Children’s Christmas Play/Musical
  • Seafood Christmas Dinner (often a simple Crab Quiche)
  • A Christmas Tea Party and/or New Year’s Open House
  • Decorating with “bouquets” of fresh holly & greenery (or homemade wreaths)
  • A drive or walk to see Christmas lights and/or Caroling
  • Homemade Gifts and/or Ornaments
  • Handmade Valentines

Photo Credit: EvelynGiggles

Spring

  • Starting Garden Seeds and early Spring plantings
  • Occasionally we’ve been able to attend a community “Easter Sunrise Church Service”
  • Spring bouquets of fragrant daffodils and crocuses
  • Listening to the many little frogs at the creek
  • Reading about St. Patrick
  • Picking Nettles
  • Meals of fresh, green asparagus, new leafy greens, or just-picked rhubarb
  • Puddle Jumping and Walks with Umbrellas
  • A Mother’s Day camping trip (usually at the beach); typically a less-crowded weekend before the summer crowds and hot weather arrive
  • Board Game Nights
  • Nature Walks/Hikes
  • Making Butter from grass-fed raw milk (late spring/into summer)
  • Star-Gazing on clear evenings

Photo Credit: JustyCinMD

Summer

  • Bonfires and Barbecues
  • Early Garden Harvests & Later Plantings
  • Swimming/Wading in a shady creek or river
  • A Backyard Camp-Out in the Tent
  • Bouquets of Roses and Wildflowers
  • Berry Smoothies or Blueberry Cake for Breakfasts (I know some of you live in climates where you actually get strawberries in the spring; but ours aren’t ready until at least June!)
  • More Butter-Making from grass-fed raw milk
  • Attending Farmer’s Markets
  • Lavender Desserts (such as cookies or souffles)
  • Making Lavender Sachets for adding to laundry or bed pillows
  • Gathering Herbs & Preparing Remedies
  • Ice Cream Sundae Parties
  • Picnics on the lawn
  • Jars of Sun Tea

Did you see some of your favorites on the list? What are your family’s traditions?

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Q & A’s for Mission-Minded Families: HOMESCHOOLING

by monthly contributor, Ann Dunagan, of Harvest Ministry

This month marks the beginning of our family’s 21st year of homeschooling. It’s because of God’s grace that we’ve been in this adventure for over two decades; and it’s only by God’s grace that I can confidently say, “We’re still in it for the long-haul!”

On this theme, Lindsay had a few questions:


Q. LINDSAY @ PASSIONATE HOMEMAKING:  What was your original vision and goal for choosing to homeschool your children, and how have you kept that vision burning for over 20 years?

A. ANN @ MISSION-MINDED FAMILIES:  I became intrigued with homeschooling during college, as I was studying Elementary Education. During this time, as Jon and I were also preparing for marriage, I read a book called The Way Home, by Mary Pride, which challenged me — big-time — about God’s purposes for homemaking, motherhood, and home education. As I completed my student teaching, I observed how a student who had been absent (for even 2-3 weeks) could quickly “catch-up” with the rest of the class with only a few days of 1-on-1 tutoring, causing me to question the time-effectiveness of a typical classroom. Later, as newlyweds, Jon and I led several youth mission trips. On these teams, we observed a huge contrast between the peer-orientation (and worldliness) of many public (and even Christian-) school kids, compared to the parent-orientation (and spiritual depth) of many homeschooled kids. Sometimes, the homeschooled parent-and-teen similarities were so strong, it was funny; but it showed us homeschooling’s discipleship potential.

For our family, it’s God’s call.

As for long-term vision, “Whenever God CALLS, He gives grace to COMPLETE.” I love the song, “His grace is enough . . . ” and the hymn, “Though none go with me, still I will follow . . . ”

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Simple Toddler Learning Activities

Sorting M & M's

Looking for some basic ideas for hands on learning fun for your littlest ones? Or maybe some simple activities that your toddler could do alone while you work with an older child? I have collected a bunch of different simple activities that I could do together with my toddler each day in between spending learning time with my older daughter. Many of these activities can be done independently. I have compiled them in a pdf document for your own use or to simply help give you some inspiration. Many times my four year old wants to join in the fun too! It provides such a fun springboard for focused quality time with my toddler which he enjoys immensely. There are approximately 25 different activities that can be sprinkled throughout the month.

I wrote each activity on an  individual 3 x 5 card. Bind index cards together with a simple hole punch and string for safe keeping and collect all your supplies and store in a basket for easy access all in one place. This way we could easily access an idea to do each day without running around the house trying to find the supplies.

Our toddler activity supply basket

These 25 activities can easily be rotated to complete on a monthly basis to keep reinforcing and building skills.  Let your child choose the activity if desired and play together. The document includes a master supply list, specific activities with the supplies needed for each activity, additional hands on learning toys that we recommend, and a list of fun songs to sing with your toddler.

Download Toddler Learning Activities document here.

Have fun!

Look at Me activity

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Fun and Frugal Field Trips

Written by monthly contributor, Emily Pastor.

I am not a home body.  As a stay-at-home mama, I love the chance to get out of the house with a fun and frugal destination in mind.  Taking intentional field trips with your young ones is a fun way to include them in the “back to school” season.  Field trips provide an excellent learning experience for children of all ages, but especially for little ones with short attention spans!  They don’t need to be fancy or expensive to be exciting and bursting with learning opportunities.  Here are a few ideas for outings both you and your little ones are sure to enjoy!

Library Story Times
Most libraries offer story times for young children and even babies. These “story-times” rightfully involve more singing and playing than they do “reading” but they introduce young children to the joys of the library in a fun and interactive environment. Story times are a fun weekly routine that offer social outlets for both mother and child and provide a weekly way to bring home new books to explore together.

Free Passes to Museums
Libraries usually offer free passes to area museums and zoos, which you are able to reserve much like you would a book. These passes often have a long list of holds (think hundreds) so don’t expect to see one soon, but if you’re not in a hurry and would like to enjoy some museums for free, this is a great option.

Parks and Playgrounds
Don’t forget the importance of play in learning! Children are wired to play. Playing opens doors to many areas of education such as social skills, physical coordination & development, creativity, and nature awareness. Find a new park or playground to explore with your little one and watch the learning unfold.

Nature walks
Take an age-appropriate nature walk. For a toddler, this might look like a walk down the block collecting pine cones and talking about how they look and feel. For an older child take a hike and collect leaves and identify them at home and make crayon rubbings of each one.

Local Farms
Farms make an excellent field trip for all ages. Young toddlers will love seeing animals up close and imitating them. Older children will enjoy learning how a cow is milked, sheep are sheared, or crops are rotated.  The next time you visit a farmer’s market, strike up a conversation with a friendly vendor and ask if they’d be willing to let your family visit their farm as an educational experience.

As you pursue fun and frugal field trips with your little ones, remember:

1. Be creative.  With a little creativity, a normal drive to the grocery store can become a game of “I spy” or a chance to learn a new song.  Pray that you would see and maximize the meaningful amid the mundane.

2. Not everything needs a lesson behind it!  Be careful not to turn everything into a lesson.  Children need to see their parents having fun just for the…well, fun of it!

3.  Ask the Lord for wisdom.  Pray each day that the Lord would give you wisdom on stewarding your child’s mind for that day.  Don’t get caught up in all the things your toddler needs to master before graduating high school.  Focus on today.

It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.
-Elisabeth Elliot

I’d love more field trip ideas to try!  What fun and frugal outings do you take with your little ones?

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Chore Charts for Little Ones

Setting up a simple chore system for my little ones was on the agenda this past month in our home and what a fun delight it has been to establish a little routine for my little ones to reinforce responsibility and service to one another in maintaining our home and cultivating good stewardship of the resources God has blessed us with. We have kept it very basic but doable for their levels.

Since they are not able to read at this level, we took pictures of each task, printed them out, glued them on construction paper (color coded for easy identification – blue for boy, pink for girl), and then laminated them. I cut them out and put them in envelopes on our refrigerator. We labeled one envelope with “do” for all the tasks yet to be completed, and the second envelope is labeled “done”, to which they can transfer the task card when it is completed. At the end of the day (twice a week or so), I will reward them with a nickle to put in their piggy bank.

Here are the tasks we assigned:

2 year old:

- Pick up library books and place in basket/shelves
- Carry plate to the sink after each meal
- Pick up personal clothes and put in hamper
- Pick up toys

4 year old:

- Make bed
- Pick up personal clothes and put in hamper
- Empty dishwasher
- Clear table after dinner
- Fold towels

Thus far we have incorporated the majority of these chores into our morning routine as we get ready for the day after breakfast. They will complete their chores while I clean up the breakfast dishes. We love to sing while we work – “Clean up, clean up, everybody everywhere. Clean up, clean up, everybody do your share.” Keeps us all going when we work together and sing while we work!

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The Best Way To Teach Our Children

Photo credit

Written by monthly contributing writer, Kat at Inspired to Action.

It was 102 degrees outside.

“Mama? Can we go for a run?”

“Sure sweetie. Let’s go.”

We ran, we walked, we sweat buckets and we guzzled water.

Nine year olds don’t naturally want to go running in triple digit weather. So what made her do it?

Example.

She wanted to run because I run. She drinks tea (and tries to convince herself she likes it) because I drink tea. She rolls her eyes because I roll my eyes. Her closet is messy because my closet is messy.

For better or worse, our children are mirrors. They learn from our actions more than our words. One good example is worth more than a thousand good books, curriculum’s or sermons.

The best way to train our children is to imagine what we want them to be…

…and be that.

Note from Lindsay: This is Kat’s last post with us as a contributing writer. I just want to say a huge thank you for this dear friend and her faithful contributions over the last year and a half! Check out her awesome ministry over at Inspired to Action.

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Continuing Early Learning Preschool at Our Home

It is an exciting new year to continue our early learning education at our home! I am excited to take another year to really invest in my daughter, Karis, before launching her into kindergarten. Although she could begin this year with her knowledge of letters, sounds, and numbers, I don’t want to rush it or force her into a more structured environment before she is ready. At four years old she is in love with books, hands-on activities, and plenty of playful learning. We are starting to incorporate a fun Circle Time (inspired by Preschoolers and Peace) into our mornings together, including my two year old as well. This will be a time where we sit and read together, study the Bible, and memorize various Scripture, poems, the catechism and other things.

Here are some of our goals this year and the resources we will use to accomplish them:

1. Bible & Character Building

We will continue to read and re-read the Jesus Storybook Bible, as our favorite story bible for children. Along with this, we are reading Big Truth for Little Kids by Susan Hunt and memorizing the catechism questions. After completing this book, we will be studying the names of God using Desiring God’s resource, God’s Names. For character building, we plan to use a Child’s Book of Character Building series by Ron Coriell.

2. Memory work

We want to really utilize the fun and ease of memorizing in these early years to store up some basic facts and truths. We are memorizing one Scripture verse each week, utilizing My ABC Bible Verses to continue through reviewing and memorizing a verse for every letter of the alphabet. We also are memorizing the continents and oceans of the world and other countries using Geography Songs. I also want to memorize a few poems throughout the year.

3. Reading

As we feel inspired we will launch into a basic phonics program (but this will likely wait till next year), using Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading and The Reading Lesson. But ultimately, I don’t plan to rush it at all. My main goal for these early years is to continue to do a lot of reading together as a family. I am borrowing a weekly load of books from the library as we work through the 1000 Classics book list (for the primary level) and Sonlight’s Kindergarten book list recommendations. Although we are not using Sonlight this year, I certainly appreciate the book recommendations that are offered in their programs and want to enjoy the benefits of these excellent stories. We also have a list of quality literature that we are going to read aloud together throughout the year, most likely as a family in the evenings. Our list includes:

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Comments { 55 }